How to prepare for an academic interview
The process for an academic interview, typically for postdoctoral and faculty positions, is quite different from a regular interview. Typically, an academic interview takes one to two full days and includes several of the following components:
- One-to-one interviews
- Group interviews
- A job talk involving a professional presentation
- Teaching a class
- Social situations and meals
- A tour of the institution/university
You should go to the interview well prepared and feeling confident. Here are a few practical tips that will help you prepare for the interview:
Know the institution: Research as much as you can about the institution. Find out more about their strengths, priorities, aims, current focus, and culture. Research the department as well: their previous and current research areas, the courses they offer, funding sources, current requirements, etc. This will help you anticipate the kind of questions the interviewees might ask you. It will also give the interviewers the impression that you are really interested in working for the institution and have taken the effort to find out whether you will fit in.
Know the interviewers: Some universities/institutions provide the names of the people on the interview panel in the interview letter itself. Go through the profiles of these scholars and find out about their areas of interest. Read a few of their papers if possible. This could give you an idea about the topics on which they might ask questions. More importantly, it’s easier to get into an interview knowing that you have some idea of who the interviewer is. If the names of the interviewers are not provided, call up the institution and find out. If nothing else works, check the staff list on the website and find out more about the members.
Know your CV well: Often, an academic CV includes publications written or courses taught, some of which could have occurred some years ago. Take some time to go through individual elements of your CV and refresh your memory of your past achievements and why you did what you did. You should be prepared to answer detailed questions about your past work.
Prepare to talk about your research: You might need to talk about your research in different scenarios—from an informal two-minute interaction at a dinner to a 30-minute on-to-one interview. Be clear about what you would like to include at each of these sessions.
Prepare for the job talk: This part – the formal research talk or job talk – is often the key deciding factor for the selection committee. It often involves delivering a formal presentation to faculty and students at an auditorium, so be prepared to speak in front of a large audience. Practice several times in front of your friends or colleagues and in front of an unfamiliar audience if possible. Ensure that your job talk is not very technical, as there will be people from other departments as well in the audience: try to make it clear, engaging, and informative.
Practice answering sample interview questions: A fairly large part of the kind of questions asked at interviews is predictable. Be prepared to answer questions about your research, your ability to gain funding, your role as teacher/supervisor, collaborations, your past and future plans, why you think you would fit in the institution, etc. Additionally, having mock interview sessions with your supervisor would also be helpful.
Be sociable: An academic job interview is very different from your thesis interview. While evaluating you, the hiring committee will definitely focus on your capability, but they will also want to employ a co-worker who would be cheerful and good to work with. Additionally, remember that even at seemingly informal gatherings, such as social events, meals, etc., you are constantly being evaluated; so be your cheerful self at all times, while remembering not to be overly chatty or informal.
Ask questions: An interview is not only about answering questions: you should feel free to ask questions, too. Clarify what your potential employers expect from the position in general (hours of work, project completion, publication rate, etc.) and with regard to research funding in particular. Find out about their tenure process, criteria and rate, the teaching load, the quality of your potential colleagues, collaborations with other universities, etc.
Most importantly, make all your plans and preparations in advance so that you are relaxed on the night before the interview and appear for the interview feeling refreshed and energetic.
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